NASHVILLE, TENN — New attention from people protesting police brutality and racial injustice is changing the way cities and campuses in the American South regard symbols of white supremacy. All over the country, monuments to men who embraced and actively fought for slavery have been coming down. Some are being removed via government or university orders, while others are being poetically removed and disposed of by Black Lives Matters crowds.
For years, groups have been peacefully petitioning and requesting the removal of these symbols of hate, but to no avail. The proprietors of these statues have hidden behind the phony shroud of “southern pride,” “leadership and courage,” and “part of our heritage.” It’s bullshit that is so old, it’s become a dried up cow chip Frisbee. These are monuments to monsters that, in turn, glorify white supremacy and memorialize a treasonous government.
Regardless of how the statues must come down, they all must come down. Period.
Except this one:
This is a statue of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest who is probably more recognizable now as the person who the fictional character Forrest Gump was named after. But Forrest was anything but a lovable buffoon who enjoyed eating chocolates and adding a third syllable to the name “Jenny.” He was one of the south’s most notorious slave traders and murderous Confederate soldiers (see Fort Pillow Massacre).
If the history of Forrest is not sickening enough, the statue itself was designed by Jack Kershaw, the co-founder of a prominent white nationalist and white supremacist organization The League Of The South – a name that uses the word “league” so loosely that the family of rabbits living under my shed could also qualify as a “league.” Kershaw also has the notorious honor of being the lawyer who defended Martin Luther King Jr.’s murderer James Earl Ray.
Unlike the vast majority of confederate monuments that were created between 1890s and 1950s, this cartoon villain from a Tim Burton movie was created in 1998. It is located on private land off of an interstate that leads into Nashville, with vegetation routinely cleared by the state to make the statue more visible for drivers. Thankfully at the time, no self-respecting artist would go within 3,000 miles of creating this monstrosity, so Kershaw created it himself. And thank god he did, because he created a head-on car-accident of a statue. He gave us something so epically bad that you can’t turn away from it for fear that it will come to life and try to eat you. If this thing could talk, you imagine it would have a voice like if Gilbert Godfried inhaled helium and it would try to sell you meth.
This statue of Forrest is how he should be depicted: a crazy-eyed murderous muppet for the world to mock. Let it stay up as a satirical monument to the confederate monuments whose legacies were propped up by myth. While most confederate statues depict the person in a glorious position (like the General Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia of him majestically riding a horse instead of him signing the Confederacy’s surrender), the Forrest statue not only perfectly memorializes the south’s failed attempts to keep slaves, but it also visually symbolizes the emotional state of its white supremacist supporters now in 2020.
I truly do hope it stays up, and that there are always cartons of rotten fruit nearby for people to throw at it. To me, it is also an example of how artists around the world continuously condemn this racist behavior because artists have trained their mind to see the world through the lens of other people. Art is fueled by empathy (except Kelsey Grammer and Tim Allen, but conservatives can have them).
If the Forrest monument comes down, I’m 100% okay with that too because as an artist I recognize that this supernatural being from a Steven King book is a source of immense pain for so many.
So if you are one of those people who think “It’s just a statue. What’s the big deal?”, then you are part of the problem. Sorry for the cliche, but it does not get more true. Behind every one of these monuments to a rich, racist white guy from 160 years ago are dozens of other rich, racist white guys who openly wanted these fuckers to win and were living not that long ago OR are still alive! They think they got away with pushing their symbols of oppression and white supremacy. They’ve failed. So let this epic disaster of a monument that looks like a Pee Wee Herman claymation be symbolic of how uncreative, uninspired, unempathetic, unheroic, and inhuman these people truly are.
Reporter Dr. Jonathan H. Dong contributed to this article.